The mesmerising performers who create sound effects

Many sounds are added to films and TV using everyday objects, and the process can be a strange and fascinating thing to watch, as this short film reveals.

The Secret World of Foley, a short film directed by Daniel Jewel, began as a project to shine a light onto one of the more obscure jobs in the film industry. So obscure in fact that even Jewel knew little about it beforehand.

“While I was finishing another film, someone said ‘we’re going to get this Foleyed,’ and I didn’t know what it was,” he says. “But when they explained it to me it all made sense, and I think that’s the case for a lot of people.”

They’re lost in the movie that they’re making the sound for – Daniel Jewel

The purpose of Foley is to add sounds to films after the footage has been recorded. For a number of reasons, such as unwanted wind or traffic noises, filmmakers often avoid recording sounds on location.

Sometimes, it’s the responsibility of the Foley artists to make sounds using everyday objects in a recording studio as the footage rolls on a screen – and these people are the focus of Jewel’s short film (watch a clip, above).

Foley artists usually work in pairs with relatively low-tech equipment by Hollywood’s standards. They mirror the movements of the actors while rustling fabrics or tapping shoes on the floor in a mesmeric dance. “You need to have an incredible understanding of each other,” Jewel explains. “You’re not only trying to match the action on screen, you’re trying to match each other’s movements and keep in sync.”

In The Secret World of Foley, two sound artists, Pete and Sue, provide the sounds for a group of fishermen in Devon going about their daily business. They perform everything from the sound of birds’ wings by flapping chamois leather to the roll of a boat over pebbles.

“It‘s their job to interpret a movie in sound. There’s an element of live performance to Foley. You have these people in front of a huge television screen and they’re acting out the film. If you look at Pete and Sue’s faces during the film they are absolutely transfixed. They’re lost in the movie that they’re making the sound for.”

Jewel recorded the film at Pinewood Studios in the UK. “Pinewood is an amazing place, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of props. I remember when I was younger closing the car door and being disappointed that it didn’t make the satisfying clunk I wanted it to. When I went to the studio in Pinewood, I saw all these car doors hung up on the wall – lots of different types – and then I understood why car doors in films sound so good.”

The job of a Foley artist is to think about everything in a scene down to the character’s clothing. “When people think of Foley they might think of bullets whizzing by but these guys can tell beautiful stories with clicks of fingers or feet on gravel or particular sounds of clothing. It’s about the sounds of everyday life.

Read more about the strange sounds used in TV and Hollywood movies, from the envelope noise used in Star Trek to the plastic cups in Lord of The Rings.

The Secret World of Foley won Best Short Film at Washington DC Filmfest, the Audience Award at Barcelona Mecal Film Festival and Best Sound Design at the UK Sound and Music Awards, all in 2015.